Saturday, June 25, 2011

SIgns of the Times

Signs are used to communicate a message.  I've found some of the signs here very interesting.  Some make me feel safe and protected in a strange place:


Some I'm sure make Italians feel safe and protected:

Some are completely ignored.  For clarification, see my previous Locks of Love post.


Some made me laugh out loud:

Some, like this one on the path between Corniglia and Vernazza, helped me justify the second helping of panna cotta:


Some reflect the past.  Michelangelo lived here:


  And I suppose some reflect the present...so wrong in so many ways:



Some have been altered to change their meaning entirely.  There is a local artist who goes around altering selected traffic signs.  This sign was once there to indicate an upcoming T in the road.  But now...


 And this sign is posted in honor of my friend now serving in Afghanistan.  Unfortunately, signs of the times.


Friday, June 24, 2011

Festival of Saint Giovanni Ends With a Bang!

The Festival of Saint Giovanni ended tonight with a beautiful fireworks show that lasted over 45 minutes!  They shot the fireworks from high up on the Piazza Michelangelo overlooking the city.  We had a prime spot on the Via de Benci bridge.  It was amazing!  Here's a sampling...and this time I held the camera correctly:

video

All in all, a very fun and interesting day!  Check out more pictures of the parade at:

https://picasaweb.google.com/112716875856144719736/FestivalOfSaintGiovanni?authkey=Gv1sRgCIf9nKmQpqnMBg&feat=directlink

Florence and Her Flags

The Florentines' love their flags!  There are flags everywhere, and they all have some special significance or meaning.  For example, the Italian flag is displayed proudly in special celebration this year of a United Italy:


And this flag incites crowds to cheer in a different form of celebration.   It's the flag for the Florence Football (Soccer to us!) Team:

 These flags are of great political and economic signficance. The Italian flag in the middle flanked by the official Firenze Fleur-de-lis and the flag of the European Union:

 But today was the day of flags!  All of Florence was on holiday to celebrate the Festival of Saint Giovanni, the patron saint of Florence.  And the pageantry included many bright and colorful flags representing the various Florentine neighborhoods:







The most exciting flags of the day were the flags carried by the official "flag throwers!"  The symbol and colors of Florence proudly displayed as they tossed these flags high into the air and then caught them.




Here's a short video of  the flag throwing.  I apologize for the side-ways picture.  New camera and didn't read the manual.  Just turn your computer screen sideways and then it's perfect.  :)

 video

Yes, today EVERYONE had a flag!!


So, you see, Florentines' love their flags.  But of all the flags I've seen, this is the one that really made me pause and quietly watch as it waved in the breeze.  In this place for one brief moment, I was home.  It turns out, flags are important to all of us.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Top 10 Lessons I've Learned in Florence

So, as we go from day to day here, we've learned several very key lessons that I thought I should pass on just in case you ever decide to visit Florence.  I'm going to do this ala David Letterman and count them down from 10 to 1.

Here goes:

Lesson #10: Shoes brought to Florence should STAY in Florence.  Dogs and not a strand of grass anywhere...enough said.  No problem...buy new shoes to bring home.

Lesson #9: Walk in the "lines" (aka pedestrian crossing) with authority, and whatever you do, don't make eye contact!  It's a simple game of chicken between the pedestrians and the automobiles/vespas.  No fear!

Lesson #8: Even Italian table wine is fantastic!  Sometimes only 3-4 Euro a liter.  Perfecto!

Lesson #7: Panna Cotta, the jello of the Gods!  I cannot stop eating it and I have the recipe to bring home. Good thing there's lesson #6.

Lesson #6: You can pretty much eat all the pasta, gelato and panna cotta you want if you're walking a minimum of 4-5 hours a day.  I have no idea how many miles that is.  Bring a pedometer along to justify the extra calorie intake.

Lesson #5: When the temperature outside reaches 90 degrees, there should be air-conditioning.  This isn't really a lesson.  It's more like my recommendation for a universal law.  Kind of like the Theory of Relativity.

Lesson #4: Line drying EVERYTHING is not the optimal way.  For instance, linen blouse...yes...cotton underwear...NO! Can you say sandpaper?

Lesson #3: If you use really good cheese, you do not need mayonnaise or mustard on your sandwich.  Try yummy spreadable mozzarella cheese instead.  Deelish!

Lesson #2:  If you like purses or leather goods of any kind, don't come here.  Florence is like CRACK for leather lovers.  And the smell!!!  AHHHHH!!  Must stop buying!

And finally Lesson #1: The five second rule does NOT apply in Florence!  If it hits the ground, it goes in the trash....period!  For further clarification, see Lesson #10.

So, that pretty well sums up what I've learned so far. If I learn anything else in my remaining 2 weeks, I'll be sure to pass it along.  Ciao!

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Five Villages

There are no words or pictures that will capture the beauty of this past weekend.  A rather large group of us traveled to the Cinque Terre which means "five villages."  In past times, the area was also referred to as "the sanctuaries."  We traveled by train from Florence making two stops along the way until we arrived in what would be our home base for the weekend, Vernazza. 


Since we got here after noon, we decided to just stay here on Friday and explore the town.  Cinque Terre is all about hiking trails and almost all of them go one direction...UP!


So, up we went.  It was 1.9 kilometers one way.  But the view was so worth the effort!

Vernazza

After the long hike, we treated ourselves to an afternoon iced cappucino, panna cotta with fresh berries (my new favorite dessert), and canoli with fresh ricotta at Il Pirata delle Cinque Terre.  This restaurant is run by the dynamic Sicilian brothers Gianluca and Massimo also know as the Canoli brothers.  These were by far the best pastries we've had since we've been here. I would have included a picture, but we ate it too fast!!  Next we checked into our Pensione.  Pensione Sorriso to be exact.  It was a very nice B&B.  Not usually my style, but as you can probably tell from the photos, no hotel chains here.  For dinner, we met up with George and went to the Ristorante Al Castello.  There was a slight hike to get to it but the food was wonderful and the view...well, judge for yourself.



After walking back down and treating ourselves to gelato, we decided to call it a night and get an early start in the morning.

On Saturday, we began tackling the hiking paths between the 5 villages.  We first took the train to Corniglia and hiked back towards Vernazza.  The hike was a liitle work and took over 90 minutes.  But again, the views were worth it.


Corniglia
Corniglia is the only one of the 5 towns NOT located directly on the water.  So we got off at the train station, hiked up to the village and then started the trail back to Vernazza.  Here's me with Corniglia in the background. And yes, that's where we started walking from.


Once we made it back to Vernazza, we took the train to town number 3 on our list, Monterosso.  We decided not to try the hike between Vernazza and Monterosso because we had been warned that it could be dangerous especially if wet and the weather was threatening rain.  Monterosso is the most like a true resort town and has the largest beach of the Cinque Terre.  It is considered the Italian Riviera.  This is where our students hung out.


From Monterosso, we boarded the ferry that runs between the 3 port cities and headed back east to Riomaggiore.  In spite of the chop, evidenced by the white caps in my photos, the views were amazing!  Here are the 4 other cities from the water. 

Vernazza
 
Corniglia


Manarola
 
Riomaggiore

We got off the boat in Riomaggiore  and started the hike back west.  The trail between Riomaggioare and Manarola is called Via dell'Amore.  This path is literally carved out of the living rock plunging sheer to the sea.  The hike was easy and the scenery magnificent.



By the time we reached Manarola, we were famished and decided to try one of the local specialties...farinata.  It is a thin crepe made from chick pea flour.  We sampled two variaties.  One stuffed with cheese and the second topped with the area's other specialty, pesto sauce.  Yummy!


The plan was to continue the hike on to Corniglia and then take the train back to Vernazza, but the path between these two towns was closed because of a rock slide. So, we hiked back to Manarola and then took the train to Vernazza.  We ended our all day adventure back at Il Pirata dell Cinque Terre with the Sicilian brothers.  The dinner was as delicious as the pastry and we sat next to two fabulous women from California and Oregon.  We topped off the night with one more panna cotta with fresh berries!!  All in all a delightful way to end a perfect weekend.


Pensione Sorriso...Home sweet home!
This weekend was just the relaxing break we needed! We actually only have 2 weeks of school left.  The next two weeks I'm planning on staying close to Florence and seeing the sights around here.  So much to see and so little time left! 

Check out this link for more pictures from the weekend:

https://picasaweb.google.com/112716875856144719736/CinqueTerre?authkey=Gv1sRgCK2ki_Puj6v0Dg&feat=directlink

Sunday, June 19, 2011

More pictures from Pisa & Lucca

Here's the album link for more photos from our trips to Pisa and Lucca:

https://picasaweb.google.com/112716875856144719736/PisaLucca?authkey=Gv1sRgCL2K466cqbi2tgE&feat=directlink

Enjoy!

More pictures from Rome

Having trouble with the embedded slideshow.  This link should take you directly to more pictures from the Rome weekend:

 https://picasaweb.google.com/112716875856144719736/Rome?feat=directlink

I'll be doing this with all my photos for the rest of the trip.  Keep an eye out for links to the photo albums!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Pisa & Lucca

Today was another long day packed full of wonderful things.  We all left early this morning for Pisa and Lucca.  We started the day with a guided tour of Pisa.  This is a photo of the Field of Miracles.  To Pisans, it represents the circle of life.  The round building in the center is the Baptistry where all Pisan babies are baptized.  The building immediately behind it is the Cathedral with its leaning bell tower.  Most parishioners would be married here.  To the right, and not in the picture, is a museum that once served as the town's only hospital.  And to the left, the long white building, is the Mausoleum or cemetery.  So, you see, from birth to death all represented in the town's square.


But everyone comes to see the leaning tower!!  We learned today that there were 3 architects involved in the project.  The first one finished only the first 3 tiers.  Then the project ran out of money.  Since the tower was obviously all ready leaning, he skipped town and went to Sicily where he never attempted another tower in his lifetime!  The second architect finished all but the top tier. But then war broke out between the Pisans and the Genoans and he was killed along with many Pisans.  Seventy-five years later, a third architect placed the top tier on the tower.  It is the only part of the tower which is straight.  But the tower isn't alone.  EVERY building on the square except for the Mausoleum LEANS!  As Louisianans we can appreciate the concept of "soft soil."  Most of the structures are made predominantly, if not entirely, of marble, and the soft soil simply can't support the weight. 
After a fun and interesting morning in Pisa, we re-boarded the bus and headed to Lucca.  Lucca is a small walled city between Pisa and Florence.  It was delightful!  And much less crowded.  It was nice to be out of the tourist bustle for a little while.
As you can tell, it was another fun, but LONG day.  Tonight everyone is resting up for our weekend at Cinque Terre.  I'll be offline for a few days, but will post pictures when I get back on Sunday.  

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Perfecto!!

Last night we had our first cooking class.  What a blast!!  We made ravioli stuffed with spinach and ricotta topped with a butter and sage sauce, vegetable souffle', and vanilla and strawberry flan.  Molto buono!!  It was so much fun and so delicious.  We had a few mishaps along the way, but that just made it more fun.

Who would have believed that the end we have a delicious meal that WE cooked???  Perfecto!  We had an extremely charming and funny chef who worked with us named Frabriiscio.  All he kept saying was "Perfecto!"  And when something would mess up..like the pasta not rolling through the machine correctly...he would repeat, "why, why, why??" It was hysterical! 

They gave us the recipes for everything.  I will probably try the souffle and flan, but that homemade pasta thing is way too much work for me.  But it was so much fun and I can't wait until Monday night and our next cooking class!

Monday, June 13, 2011

ROMA!!

Sorry for the delay in posting, but we had a packed weekend of events and very sketchy Internet access.  The whole group, yes..all 46 of us...headed to Rome for the weekend.  We started very early Friday morning and arrived in Rome by 10:30.  Had time to drop our bags at the hotel and then head out to meet our guides for the tour of the Vatican. 


What can I say?  It was amazing!  We started with the Vatican Museum which houses thousands of art works including paintings, sculptures, and tapestries. 



I will post pictures, but they definitely do not do it justice.  You just need to add this to your "bucket list."  After the museum we visited the Sistine Chapel. Our guide, Ned, was a little verbose, but extremely knowledgable.


We learned EVERYTHING about the Chapel ceiling including the artists, the story depicted, and the politics behind getting it completed.  Did you know that Michelangelo worked 17-18 hour days and it took him 4 years to complete the ceiling and The Last Judgment?  He stayed in bed for one entire month when he was finished.  Also, there was one religious leader who told the Pope he didn't really like the way the painting was looking.  The next time he went to check on the progress, Michelangelo had included the critic's face on one of the sinners in hell in The Last Judgment. 

After the Chapel, we made our way to St. Peter's Basilica.  WOW!  The church will hold 60,000 people!!  And they allow 17,000 tourists at a time.  So, we were there with 16, 950 of our new closest friends.  :) But words cannot desribe this place.  Grandeur beyond your wildest imagination. 

\
Michelangelo's Pieta

Even though we were all pretty much exhausted by this point, it was worth it all.  But by the time we finished walking around the Basilica with guides constantly talking in our ears, we all felt like this:


So, after a harried subway ride...trying to keep up with 42 college students in a metro during rush hour..., we checked into our hotel rooms.  A quick dinner and then back to the hotel to rest and enjoy our first night's sleep with air conditioning in almost 3 weeks!  AHHHH!!! 

The next day started early again.  We had the same guides from the previous day.  First, we went to the Forum and the Roman ruins.  



When you think about all of this being here for thousands of years, it kind of puts time into perspective.  We are all just here for the blink of an eye.  Once again our guide was full of colorful stories as he dramaticized the murder of Ceasar and the actions of Marc Anthony as he carried the body through the crowd of citizens.  He really made the stones around us come to life. 

From here, we moved on to the Colisseum.  One word...cool!  We had all seen the postcard before, but nothing prepares you for seeing it in person.  It's so huge and again, so amazing that's it's still around after all these years. 



The Colisseum ended our guided tours for the weekend and although we enjoyed them and learned a lot, I don't think any of us was sad to see the ear buds go! 

So, our own personal guide, George, took over and we headed to the Pantheon.  But there were so many interesting things to see along the way.  It's just a very unique city with so much history.  The Pantheon was great too, but I have to say that once you've seen the Sistine Chapel and the Basilica, all other churches pale in comparison.  But...nevertheless...Pantheon...check!  After this we walked to the Trevi Fountain.  How beautiful!  We all threw our coins in and made wishes.  The theme song from the old movie "Three Coins in a Fountain" kept playing in my head. 
On Sunday we had a free day..no tours!!  YEAH!!  A group of us went to the Villa Borghese gardens.  It was so pretty and peaceful.  It was nice to be out of the hustle for a few hours.  We rented these fun bicycles and pedaled around the park for an hour. 
All in all it was a great weekend in Rome!  But by the end of Sunday we were all ready to get back "home" to Florence.  Funny how we think of this place as home after only a few weeks.  Here we know our way around and we know where to get the best pizza and the best kebale,.  Yes, this is home...for another 3 weeks.  Casa dolce casa!